I was lying in my bath last night reading a yellowing, dog eared paperback when something unexpected popped up. The tome in question, I should add, is the rather excellent To Sea In A Sieve by Peter Bull. First published in 1956 it is an unvarnished account of the author’s experience in the Royal Navy throughout World War Two.
I enjoy these little known, unfashionable books for their own sake and for the necessary colour and detail they bring to our understanding of that terrible conflict. One cannot properly appreciate the almost abstract nature of historical accounts when they glibly speak of hundreds of men here and thousands of men there, but when you read an everyday and above all ordinary tale of the day to day experiences of just one of the combatants it puts flesh on the otherwise cold statistical bones.
Anyway, the thing which popped up you’ll no doubt be delighted to learn was a coincidence and nothing more shocking than that. The author was recounting time spent in his tiny craft at anchor in Anzio Bay, almost entirely defenceless from the shelling of shore batteries and surrounded by air dropped mines. He was understandably completely terrified, and, as the days dragged into weeks, he staved off the urge to leap into the sea and swim away by, among other things, games of patience.
He would make appalling bets on the outcome of these games. If I fail to get out this time we will be sunk today, if I succeed we’ll survive, that kind of thing. It struck me how similar our behaviours can be in times of dreadful torment as in times of relative comfort and tranquillity.
I have, for as long as I’ve followed football, been prey to silly superstitions which I would laugh at in any other aspect of my life. Go to the toilet in the pub during a game and I am guaranteed to miss a goal. If my wife enters the room and the opposition contrive somehow to score then clearly it is her fault. This last has become so ingrained that Liz happily accepts responsibility now whereas once she may have protested. She claims it’s worth it for the times she causes an Arsenal goal to be scored by walking in or phoning at the decisive moment.
I too have played games of chance or skill before a match convinced that the outcome of one depends upon my fortune in the other. It’s ridiculous I know, but reading of that poor man, an actor in civilian life who found himself suddenly faced with the prospect of not only his own violent death but also that of those men he’d grown to know and revere above all others, behaving in the self same way reassured me that perhaps I was, if not sane, then at least not alone.
I don’t know what rituals you may feel necessary to bring about a return to winning ways after the rather damp squib of a game on Wednesday, but I hope they prove successful. The end of an unbeaten run is of course a depressing turn of events and I wonder if we don’t feel every disappointment a little more keenly in 2016 given what a dreadful year it has been. The obituary writers have been working flat out, the political landscape has been painted in dark and drear tones and at such times the distraction of sport seems like a convenient piece of buoyant flotsam to a man adrift.
In many ways I find the contrast between the life and death struggles people endure now and those others have endured in the past shines an unflattering if not downright embarrassing light onto our silly tantrums over what is at the end of the day just a game. It’s not much of an excuse to say that we have invested a lot of years or much money in our fervent support when truly we ought to be grateful to have lived lives so free from genuine harm to enable us to indulge ourselves in such frippery.
But then I read how passionate were the games of both baseball and cricket between the crews of the British ship and their American allies during moments away from the action, and I realise that they took their sport every bit as seriously as we do now. So as you fill your lucky mug, wonder if a late kick off is a charmed or unlucky thing, put on your lucky socks or offer up a sacrifice of burnt toast this morning don’t be alarmed at your palpably loopy behaviour. It is perfectly natural.
When the outcome of that which we endow with great importance is beyond our control. When we feel powerless. When our own pathetic insignificance in the grand tragedy of human existence is brought forcibly home to us. These are the times when we turn to the supernatural no matter how rational we might prefer to think ourselves to be.
We happy few cannot hope to influence events at the London Stadium today. Not beyond countering the negative miasma through which the players must peer if they make the mistake of perusing the on-line Arsenal debate. Maybe one or two will be able to raise a cheer of encouragement from the stands but otherwise we will not be of much import when the teams face off at five thirty this afternoon.
You know and I know that it is down to the eleven men on the field to get the job done today and put that smile back on our faces. They won’t do it for that reason – of course not – they’ll do it because they’re professional sportsmen who hate to lose, because of camaraderie, team spirit and for the manager who has placed his faith in them.
None of which is actually far removed from the reasons Peter Bull gave for the stubborn refusal to break which he and the young men under his command displayed as the shells fell around them in that beautiful Italian bay all those years ago. Win or lose today we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that it really isn’t life or death. There are no ‘must win’ games and perhaps we might count our blessings that the happiness and despair of our lives hinge on such indescribably petty and above all transient events.
Daft yellow for Coquelin but fair play to the lad – he actually managed to get the ball as far as the crowd.
yes anicol, ox twice and monreal twice had great chance to provide a tap in and their final ball was off. That second goal would settle us down and maybe lead to a few more for us.
I did not like the look of Gabriel’s knee – I think we may see a change at HT
Gabriel fit to start the second half, good good.
ox has started the second half on the right, wins a freekick, ozil takes, walcott heads over
xhaka likes a long throughball
ox with a bit of outstanding skill, then ball to alexis, on to theo and he scuffs a left foot shot wide
kos the boss clears after west ham cut us open
fletcher powers a shot a couple of feet wide
gabriel and a west ham player clash heads.
arsenal down to ten men as gabriel is off to get a bleed stopped
fletcher booked for leaving the foot in on koscielny
ox doing some very nice things today
63 minutes ayew on for whu,
65 minutes, reid booked for a late one on alexis.
ramsey on for theo.
68 minutes randolph makes double save
71 minutes, alexis with a great turn, dribble and powers a shot across the keeper to make it 2-0
no more than afc deserve
andy carroll on for mark noble
coquelin loses the ball on edge of our area, ayew fires over
if our decision making and final ball was better today we would have racked up a massive score so far.
3-0, alexis fires in form edge of the area after good build up play. it was a bit of a bobbler, but it was right in at the post
mustafi seems to win the ball, ref gives a foul, mustafi complains and is booked, payet freekick hits the post and comes out to carroll to head home, 3 whu players were in for the follow up, only one defender had reacted. 7 minutes plus stoppage time to be played.
84 minutes – ox from outside the area fires in a great curling shot to the back of the net. 4-1
as i said earlier ox has done some great things today, and that goal capped off a fine performance from him, he still needs to improve his final ball and decision making
86 minutes ox to alexis, who dummies the keeper and dinks it over him for a great hattrick, that is 3 and an assist for him so far.
oh yeah, its 5-1
elneny on too
Chuba Akpom @cakpom 2m2 minutes ago
What a guy #Alexis ⚽️⚽️⚽️
It’s lucky we were profligate in the first half or Bilic would be on his bike 🚲
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FT: whu 1-5 AFC
if we had scored 10 it would not have flatterer us.
total domination in midfield, and alexis very sharp up front. great response with two quick goals after whu got their goal.
afc now 2nd
Not good enough , we should have scored more, sooner and often. I refuse to accept a mediocre 5-1.
I deserve better.
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Yet again no clean sheet – very, very disappointing.
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PG… you are funny. But sadly i think there may yet be some that will say that on a serious note!
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A good result, a well-deserved result, the goals against, could do better!
It would seem that Football Leaks has Mesut, in the list of tax-avoidance, to be disclosed.
Perusing Der Speigle, Football Leaks would seem to be more than the paper claims?
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Yippee ki yay!
ozil has equaled his goal tally for all of last season – 8
oxlade-chamberlain has his best goal scoring season – 6
alexis has hit his 40th bpl goal for afc in 75+4 games, and is top of this seasons goalscoring charts along with diego costa with 11 each. Matty Upson says we need better.
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Gabriel may not give us the exciting attacking play Bellerin gives us from right back, but he has surprised me by how good a full back he is, in the one and three quarters games he has had there, don’t think I’ve seen him play any better at CB than he has at RB.
today Xhaka had probably his best game for us so far and isn’t it time the plundits and uberbloggers coped themselves on, about him being underused, we have played 14 BPL games, he has played in 11 of them, starting 7, and he has played in 17 games in totoal. Not at all bad for a lad coming to a new team, a new league and a new system.
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Positively Arsenal @Blackburngeorge 31s32 seconds ago
If Alexis would release the ball a little sooner, he could be the best striker we have ever had.
afc currently top scorers in the bpl
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‘ALEXIS CAN BE A TOP STRIKER IN EUROPE’
Alexis was undoubtably the star of the show during our 5-1 win at West Ham United’s London Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Chile international scored a hat-trick and claimed an assist as we secured three points in east London, and was the biggest talking point in Arsène Wenger’s post-match press conference.
Look, he has all the ingredients to be a top class striker and he shows that now in every game. In a game like that today, again he is quick, he is quick to close down, he can dribble, he has short backlift. He has a killer instinct and it shows again that the South Americans, at the moment in world football, are the leading strikers. You have to acknowledge that. If you look through the top strikers in Europe, they are basically all South American now.
on Alexis being happy up front…
I think, yes, he likes the positions. You know how the players are, people like to play as strikers. If it doesn’t work, they prefer their first position. But when it comes off, of course, when they walk home with the ball under their arm, it’s a good feeling and I think and hope that it gives him the taste for more. He has the qualities to play there, he has good movement, he is sharp. Maybe size-wise you could say he is not the tallest, but he is quite good in the air when he goes for it.
on whether Alexis was struggling with an injury…
He had a problem in his back at half-time, but he looked sharper in the second half than in the first!
Read more at http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20161203/-alexis-can-be-a-top-striker-in-europe-#ABtCdB3v8DGMCeJf.99
WENGER ON WEST HAM AND FORWARD OPTIONS
We returned to our free-flowing best with a thrilling 5-1 win over West Ham United at London Stadium on Saturday.
Needless to say, Arsène Wenger was the happier manager in his post-match press conference, where he was asked about our second-half performance, our forward options and how we have progressed in 2016.
on an impressive second half…
You can say that, but we had a strong team performance for 90 minutes with very few weaker periods. There is only one regret: that we didn’t take our chances in the first half. We were a bit short with 1-0 up at half-time and we know how it plays on the mind. Then you think you could pay for that, but we maintained the pressure on West Ham and overall we finished in a very strong way. We were always dangerous, when we lost the ball in their final third we won it quickly back. When we were on the breaks, we looked always pacy to make the difference. Maybe as well we were patient enough when we had the domination to keep the ball well and it was a strong team performance today.
on the attacking talent in his team…
I don’t know, I think every game gives you a different problem. It looks at the moment that we score more goals away from home than at home. Is that because the opponent plays a bit more out? Is that because we play with a bit more freedom? That will be interesting to analyse. Do we play with a block that is less deep away from home? If you look at our results away from home, they’ve been very convincing.
on what’s changed compared to the last game against West Ham…
I felt overall, on our side, we had a stronger defensive performance today and to be completely objective I must say as well that West Ham have less confidence at the moment that they had last year at the same period. They have, at the moment, two handicaps. They are playing in a new ground. We have gone through that, it’s not completely comfortable, especially if it’s added with a lack of confidence. Today as well, I think they missed some important players in their squad.
Read more at http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20161203/wenger-on-west-ham-and-forward-options#r5SyfCVpU3laeVsR.99
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Mel O’Reilly @MelOreilly1970 1h1 hour ago
Piers Morgan is a hard man to ignore. But he’s well worth the effort.
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typical english journo, refuses to call it as it is, dele alli cheated plain and simple, no ifs buts or maybe’s, but will any english journo have the guts to say it, if it was a foreign player or an arsenal player they would have no problem, but spurs golden boy, no its all dressed up and only alluded to
Oliver Holt @OllieHolt22 33m33 minutes ago
Shame to see Dele Alli acting like that for the Spurs pen #motd
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really what is the story with MOTD and its choice of pundits, are they trying to see just how poor a pundit can be before people just stop watching, are they actually trying to scupper the show. Alan Shearer and chris Sutton, hard to know where one ends and the other starts, both useless, boring, thick, dumb, bias, cunts, other than that nothing in common and both on the one show. And these two are no different than most of the useless fecks the BBC employ for the show. The flagship football show on the BBC with an incredible history, and its being ruined by a mind numbing panel of shithead pundits.
well it Basel away next, I don’t know about all of you, but I hope we go with our EFLC team, and squad, maybe even a few more kids on the bench, I would include Giroud in the team if fit as expected, its almost a dead rubber, and its not worth risking any of our first choice 11, keep them for Stoke next Saturday.
Jenkinson Gabriel(or Bielik) Holding Gibbs
Maitland-Niles Iwobi Lucas
subs Martinez, Bola, Sheaf, Zelalem, Bennacer, C Willock, Mavididi
man utd 14th pts off top spot, and 10 pts off 4th, they are away to everton tomorrow and at home to spurs next week. They have great record against both of them, but we can but hope, and its a win win situation in the man utd v spurs game for us.
seemingly that needless booking Coquelin picked up was his 5th of the season and misses next weeks game v Stoke with a one game suspension.
WHU 1-5 AFC
arsenal had 18 shots, 9 on target
alexis scored 3 and had 1 assist
ox scored 1 and had 1 assist
ozil scored 1 and had 1 assist